Is the hope of organic food production being crushed in Mauritius?

Mauritius is a beautiful and until now very safe destination for families to vacation. I have happy memories of vacationing there some years back. I particularly remember watching my son wolf down plates of fresh, delicious fruits for breakfast while little sparrows hopped about seeking crumbs under the tables. My son’s love for fresh coconut water also began in Mauritius. How shocked I was to learn from forthright, ethical scrutineer and travel writer, Caroline Hurry who is the founder of Travelwrite, that this tiny island will now be growing genetically modified sugar cane which is a main export. I remember vast fields of sugar cane covering this tiny island.

This just doesn’t make sense, particularly after reading a press release from January 2016 that the Minister of Agro-Industry and Food Security, Mr Mahen Kumar Seeruttun, elaborated on a Strategic Plan 2016-2020 for the Food Crop, Livestock and Forestry sectors which is formulated to take Mauritius to a higher level of food security whilst respecting the need for safe food and better nutrition of the population.

Sugar Cane is the main agricultural product in Mauritius.
Sugar Cane is the main agricultural product in Mauritius.

Proponents of GM technology claim that the major benefits of adopting the GM technology is that it can potentially reduce the cost of production of sugar cane by decreasing the variable cost associated with weed management. What of the true costs though? Cost of population health? Cost to soil health? Cost to organic food production?

Mauritius has great fertile soil but because of it’s size, food production is limited by land availability so it is a net importer of food. On 3 September 2015, the Ministry of Agro Industry and Food Security and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) signed a Technical Cooperation Project (TCP) on support for the development of Organic farming and institutional capacity building in Mauritius.

Under the TCP, the FAO will assist Mauritius to strengthen national capabilities on organic agriculture through proposed amendments to legislation, draft of secondary regulations, develop strategic plans and training manuals. It also makes provision for the training of farmers, researchers, programme managers and technicians. So what impact does this new turn of events have on the implementation of this agreement? What impact will it have on the organic food sector in Mauritius? Is organic food compromised? Will it be contaminated? What safeguards are in place? So many questions that we will probably never know the answers to.

What an absolute lost opportunity for true nutritional food security and for Mauritius to be a shining star in the Indian Ocean if the TCP agreement is not valued by the Mauritian government above weed eradication.

See original story on Travelwrite here.

 

The Indian Ocean Island has embraced GMO foods, banned in many countries

reports CAROLINE HURRY

Wait, more sun, more sea … Monsanto? Mauritius, how could you? It’s bad enough that the South African government foisted GMO on our population, without once consulting the people it purports to serve, but you too?

How will you explain to all your visitors from one of the 38 countries where GMO is banned or at the very least being reconsidered, that your sugar, among so many other products, is riddled with GMO? There’s no labeling, no warning,rien!

This is what I asked the Mauritian Tourism Promotions Authority via their PR company, which responded with some guff about the island being a “keen participant in sustainable tourism initiatives” and the tourism sector “working to position itself as a green industry leader across the world” – a bit rich when the Mauritian biodiversity is in crisis.

Their Ministry of Agro-Industry and Food Security is hell bent on culling the threatened, endemic Mauritian flying fox (Pteropus niger) despite all the scientific evidence from the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, as supported in a letter by Bat Conservation International to the Ministry and as discussed by the IUCN SSC Bat Specialist Group in their position statement last year. Last time I looked there was less than 3% of natural forest left, but hey.

You’ll note, there was no answer to my actual question, but what CAN they say? Clearly the spin doctors hope that by sticking to the well-worn “swaying palm trees and azure waters” script, nobody will notice the evil monster in the midst of Paradise.

But we DO notice and tourists DO care – deeply – about the provenance of their food. I will not visit Mauritius again until there is at least clear labelling, but I’m not holding my breath. Mauritian people are among the nicest in the world, but if I choose not to eat GMO food in my own country why would I travel at some expense to an Indian Ocean Island to have it foisted on me?

Agrees Sonia Mountford, founder of Eategrity: “I’ve been to Mauritius and had been thinking to go again but decided on Sri Lanka instead. The news that Mauritius has embraced GMO is extremely concerning since so much of the land is sugarcane. How much glyphosate is being used and contaminating the rest of the island? Even the tourists will be unaware of the probable carcinogen they are being exposed to.

“I prefer to holiday in countries that have decided to take a cautionary approach and not poison their citizens – and tourists. Sri Lanka has become the second country to fully ban the sale of glyphosate herbicides following El Salvador’s decision in 2013. Bermuda has also put a temporary ban on glyphosate imports and is holding a review.”

Noting that, “no research had so far proven that GMOs were risk free” for consumers, Mosadeq Sahebdin, spokesman for The Institute for Consumer Protection (ICP) in Mauritius said it was “deplorable” that “the precautionary principle” was not applied to GMOs, pooh-poohing the idea that the introduction of GMOs would increase production, saying nowhere had this ever been proven.

Environmental activist, Rushka Johnson.

Agreed environmental activist and leader of the #RoundUpOut campaign, Rushka Johnson: ” It is worrying that Mauritius don’t take the concerns of the toxic, cancer-causing herbicide Glyphosate seriously. As a holiday destination where people hope to breathe fresh air, eat healthy food, and enjoy nature they should be more cautious. Many countries have chosen to ban GMO and glyphosphate. Mauritius should do the same. ”

 

Sonia Mountford

Sonia Mountford lived as an expat in the Middle East for a number of years and enjoyed travelling and exposure to third and first world cultures. Her interest in food security began while visiting in Sri Lanka after floods and discovering the politics around Food Aid. As a co-founder of Grass Consumer Action and the only full time member, she spent four years researching the dysfunctional food system in South Africa, investigating, questioning and exposing misleading claims. Although her interests range from food politics to toxins in our food, including harmful ingredients in processed foods and Big Food influence; she soon came to realize that the most important part of the food journey begins on farms. For that reason she spends much of her time visiting farms, learning and talking about constraints and concerns in production methods with farmers. Passionate about nutritional food security she believes higher animal welfare farming practices are not only necessary for ethical reasons but also for human health. She is an ambassador for SOIL, BEES and healthy WATER. Mountford started EATegrity (eategrity.co.za) “Helping You Find Integrity in the Food Chain” in 2015. Her aim is create greater consumer awareness about the food chain and to encourage transparency in the South African food industry.

5 thoughts on “Is the hope of organic food production being crushed in Mauritius?

  • March 7, 2016 at 9:22 am
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    Thankyou for creating awareness on this issue. Many people are simply unaware and cant protect themselves and their families because of this. PUBLIC PRESSURE DOES work… The people of this earth DO NOT WANT IT POISONED. respect to all who speak out. #RoundupOut #marchagainstmonsanto #marchmay21

    Reply
    • March 7, 2016 at 6:48 pm
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      Not sharing what we know of the dangers of GMOs would be negligent – and tourists have the right to know what the GM status of a country is and where they will come into contact with the possible carcinogen like glyphosate. Let us hope that the #marchagainstmonsanto will continue to bring greater awareness on GM health issues. Thank you for being part of the awareness and education drive in South Africa.

      Reply
  • March 7, 2016 at 2:48 pm
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    Bad news….then some good news?
    This is so sad for Mauritius-the island, its nature, its people and yes the tourists. It shows how people in positions of influence are seduced by the spin of “science”, “technology” “progress”, “modern thinking” extrapolation and the like, without the vision to see that working against nature benefits only the corporations who sell the agrochemicals and export their sugar. The seduction of “easier” will become so much harder as the soil and environment degrades. This little island measures 2040sq km and has about 1.3m people. What a perfect opportunity lost for a sustainable project. The sugar cane legacy is a colonial relic. The sugar barons it seems still prevail as all that sugar will be exported off the island-even as the downside of sugar for our health is being so publically denounced. Just a thought…imagine if one could transform that monoculture sugar growing system into one of small-scale local farmers growing healthy organic food for the island’s population, hotels and tourists? This is a beautiful Indian Ocean climate which enables things to grow in abundance. The long term local economic multipliers would offset the economists’ fear-driven “loss” of foreign currency from sugar exports from which a few profit. Just a thought…..
    So where is the hope? Let’s have a look for a different leadership paradigm….could there be an opposite example?
    Imagine a country or a region where the leaders had a different vision; one where they took a truly modern, enlightened agro-ecological approach and implemented it as government policy.
    A fantasy? No it has happened!
    A lot further east from the island of Mauritius, across the Indian Ocean, is the 7000sq km land-locked Indian state of Sikkim in the Himalayas. In 2003 their government started a project with the following outcome:
    “On January 18, 2016, at Sikkim’s Organic Festival, the Prime Minister of India declared the state fully organic”.
    Check out “Why India’s first 100% organic state matters for the future of organic food”
    http://foodrevolution.org/blog/organic-food-sikkim/
    Enjoy this piece of good news-it’s a lot more fun. May it inspire others….Western Cape next??

    Yours organically
    Roger Oxlee
    Conscious Consumer
    Organic & Biodynamic Market

    Reply
    • March 7, 2016 at 6:43 pm
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      Thank you for that reminder Roger – sugar cane is a colonial relic and also poses so many health risks – hope does spring from some unlikely places such as Sikkim and if they can do it then a tiny island like Mauritius should certainly be setting their sights on a higher goal too. Western Cape in South Africa? Now that is high hopes but it is not impossible, let’s HOPE for some political will right here at home and that sanity will eventually prevail!

      Reply
      • March 9, 2016 at 9:38 pm
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        Dear Sonia,
        We need to be the sowers of hope-thank you for creating the space to do it here.
        May the seeds of sustainability which we plant, take root in rich organic soil.
        I offer no apology for that ‘earthy’ metaphor 🙂 Sometimes I feel that we need to be more imaginative and less cerebral-it is part of developing a thinking heart.
        I would like to contribute futher to two issues:
        1. Firstly, I found a most significant document on developing a sustainable future called SD 21. It is a United Nations 91 page document called “Food and Agriculture: The future of sustainability.
        Sustainable Development in the 21st century (SD21)” It is a 91 page download and well worth it. The research is so clear and so available to us!
        https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/agriculture_and_food_the_future_of_sustainability_web.pdf
        Quote:
        “A new vision of sustainable agriculture must be
        practical and realistic and integrate sensible shortterm
        transitions to reduce the discomfort of change.
        Yet, it will still inevitably require a sustained level of
        commitment to principles beyond those of instant
        gratification.
        This is not a minority view. The ideas put forward
        here are widely shared by some of the world’s leading
        thinkers on agricultural development.223 There is,
        quite simply, no question about the need to alter our
        current “business as usual” approach and update the
        way we manage the intrinsically intertwined food and
        environmental systems on which we depend.”
        This study is part of the Sustainable Development
        in the 21st century (SD21) project. The project
        is implemented by the Division for Sustainable
        Development of the United Nations Department of
        Economic and Social Affairs.
        This publication has been produced with the support
        of the European Union and the Committee on
        Sustainability Assessment (COSA)”.

        Yours consciously

        Roger Oxlee

        Reply

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